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Local councils and communities are playing a significant role in creating a 'doughnut economy' in Cornwall. Credit Jim and Gail Collins

Cornish 'doughnut economy’ requires local action

Progress towards a fair and sustainable "doughnut economy" is happening at differing rates in different parts of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, according to a new report.

Cornwall is the first English county to adopt the concept of doughnut economics, which aims to fulfil the basic needs of all people without exhausting environmental resources.

The new report, by the University of Exeter, finds that progress towards sustainable development is "not uniform", reflecting different challenges and opportunities at the community scale.

Before the G7 summit earlier this month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to make Cornwall the "first net zero region of the UK".

"Some of the issues facing Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are common to all areas, while others are very different,” said Dr Rachel Turner, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) on Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

Questionnaire responses from 50 town, parish and city councils revealed priorities for sustainable development were "largely aligned".

People were most concerned about the environmental issues of sustainable land management, biodiversity and managing waste, and on the social side, they highlighted concerns about poverty, access to food, housing, transport and political voice.

The report documents the action that is already being taken by town and parish councils, often in partnership with local community groups.

Some aspects of this have been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic with an emphasis on social wellbeing, but there was also strong support for projects to enhance biodiversity, public infrastructure and waste management.

There is clearly a lot more that could be done given greater funding and enhanced support, the researchers say.

Dr Turner said: "Cornwall already has high levels of inequality, and it’s important to think about the fair distribution of costs and benefits as we tackle environmental challenges.

"Increasing the scope for local decision making and leadership should allow communities to develop appropriate plans for change."

The report says improved engagement with local communities and support for community-led action could "drive progress in realising the vision for sustainable development in Cornwall".

A case study of Helston identified opportunities for action at the local scale, including to address biodiversity loss and climate change.  

"The challenges of present-day issues such as social deprivation and climate change are rooted in inter-dependent systems that require innovative responses at multiple levels," said Professor Jane Wills, Director of the ESI. 

"Following a major campaign to hear from people about 'the Cornwall We Want' for future generations, partners across Cornwall have embarked on an ambitious agenda to pursue environmental and social sustainability.

"This report shows the significant role local councils and communities are playing."

The new report follows a previous snapshot of the "state of the doughnut" in Cornwall, which provided a baseline from which to evaluate progress.

The doughnut economy framework now underpins the Cornwall Plan 2020-2050, committing key stakeholders to improve sustainability by 2050.

The University of Exeter will work with partners to review performance, refine processes and identify any challenges that need further attention.

The research is funded by UK Research and Innovation's Strategic Priorities Fund

To find out more about this research, visit:

Date: 24 June 2021